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Curiosity Rover Drills Into Mars Rock, Finds Water

NASA’s Curiosity rover is continuing to help scientists piece together the mystery of how Mars lost its surface water over the course of billions of years.

The rover drilled into a piece of Martian rock called Cumberland and found some ancient water hidden within it. Researchers were then able to test a key ratio in the water with Curiosity’s onboard instruments to gather more data about when Mars started to lose its water, NASA officials said. In the same sample, Curiosity also detected the first organic molecules it has found. Mission scientists announced the discovery in a news conference today (Dec. 15) at the American Geophysical Union’s convention in San Francisco, where they also unveiled Curiosity’s first detection of methane on Mars.

"It’s really interesting that our measurements from Curiosity of gases extracted from ancient rocks can tell us about loss of water from Mars," Paul Mahaffy, Curiosity’s SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) instrument principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. 

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Curiosity Finds Active and Ancient Organic Chemistry on Mars

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill.

Researchers used Curiosity’s onboard Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) laboratory a dozen times in a 20-month period to sniff methane in the atmosphere. During two of those months, in late 2013 and early 2014, four measurements averaged seven parts per billion. Before and after that, readings averaged only one-tenth that level.

Curiosity also detected different Martian organic chemicals in powder drilled from a rock dubbed Cumberland, the first definitive detection of organics in surface materials of Mars. These Martian organics could either have formed on Mars or been delivered to Mars by meteorites.

Organic molecules, which contain carbon and usually hydrogen, are chemical building blocks of life, although they can exist without the presence of life. Curiosity’s findings from analyzing samples of atmosphere and rock powder do not reveal whether Mars has ever harbored living microbes, but the findings do shed light on a chemically active modern Mars and on favorable conditions for life on ancient Mars.

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Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity rover detects mysterious methane spikes on Mars

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This week is the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, a week of Earth and planetary science presentations where scientists, students, and media gather to hear the latest discoveries and developments. During a panel yesterday, Dec. 16, NASA revealed that its Mars Science Laboratory (aka Curiosity Rover) has detected a hint of methane twice over a 20-month period. The findings, published in the journal Science, were discovered during two daytime sampling periods in late 2013 and early 2014. 

Scientists are unsure of the source producing the methane spikes, and have not yet determined if the methane originated on Mars or arrived at the Red Planet via meteorites. Although organics such as methane can be present without the existence of life, this is the strongest evidence yet that Mars once supported life.

“We have full confidence that there is methane in the atmosphere of Mars,” announced John Grotzinger of CalTech, a Curiosity project scientist. “Life is one of the few hypotheses for the formation of methane on Mars”.

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Curiosity landed on Mars two years ago and since its arrival, the roving laboratory has been busy driving to an intriguing mountain located within an ancient crater. Along the path to Mount Sharp, Curiosity has collected samples at a few locations. The data we receive from Curiosity tells us a lot about the Mars’ history and what the planet would have been like in the past. The methane detection is the first in situ detection of organics on the Martian surface. The data shows background levels of methane in the Martian atmosphere as well as episodic spikes that measureseven parts per billion, roughly ten times that of the background concentration.

The results were described as “An unexpected episodic increase in the Mars methane” by members of the project. Sushil Atreva, of the University of Michigan said: “A sudden spike and just as suddenly a disappearance of methane tells us that the Mars surface is communicating with the atmosphere.”

Atreya went on to say, “This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source. There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

Organic molecules are molecules containing hydrogen and carbon — the building blocks of life. While the presence of these molecules does not definitively tell us if Mars supported life sometime in its history, we do know that Mars is chemically active and had conditions more favorable for life sometime in the past.

“We will keep working on the puzzles these findings present,” said John Grotzinger, another project scientist from Cal-tech. “Can we learn more about the active chemistry causing such fluctuations in the amount of methane in the atmosphere? Can we choose rock targets where identifiable organics have been preserved?”

When Curiosity detected such a large spike in methane, one of the first things scientists here on Earth did was work tirelessly over many months, to determine if the methane was Martian in origin, or if it was produced as an unexpected side product by Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM)suite of instruments. Extensive testing and analysis showed the methane was indeed Martian in origin. The amounts produced in the lab were no where near the amounts seen by Curiosity.

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Identifying and detecting organics on Mars is complicated as the Martian rock and soil samples contain perchlorate. When the perchlorate is heated inside SAM, it reacts with the organics, ultimately changing the structure of the compounds. This process makes it virtually impossible for us to accurately identify which organic compounds we are seeing.  An important distinction to make.

Roger Summons, a team member from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), notes: “Organics are important because they can tell us about the chemical pathways by which they were formed and preserved. In turn, this is informative about Earth-Mars differences and whether or not particular environments represented by Gale Crater sedimentary rocks were more or less favorable for accumulation of organic materials. The challenge now is to find other rocks on Mount Sharp that might have different and more extensive inventories of organic compounds.”

Although we cannot determine the origin of the methane currently, there are three likely culprits. First, we have the alteration of surface organics, formed by ancient life on Mars, that have been broken down by ultraviolet rays from Sun.

Another possibility is the reaction of minerals, such as olivine, in Mars’ subsurface with water that created methane — a geological process known as serpentinisation. Or the methane could have arrived via a delivery service, like cosmic dust or micrometeorites.

Regardless of how it was produced, it seems the methane has been stored in gas-like crystals in the Martian subsurface, known as clathrate hydrates. From time to time, the methane within the clathrates is disrupted and allowed to escape into the atmosphere. Based on the data received from Curiosity, the science team believes the source of the methane is close to Gale Crater.

“The stability of the clathrates depends on where are they are in the surface. Small impacts or thermal stresses may have destabilized the clathrates, which may represent ancient methane. They can be stored for billions of years,” said Syshil Atreya, from the University of Michigan.

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FOLLOW THE WATER…

There is water on Mars, but not like what we see here on Earth. The water in and around Gale Crater appears to have been bound into lakebed minerals, some three billion years ago, and after Curiosity got its first “taste” of Martian water after drilling a sample of the Cumberland rock.

With the help of SAM, scientists were able to extract and analyze hydrogen isotopes within water molecules imprisoned in the rock. They determined the ratio of deuterium (a heavier isotope with an added neutron) to “normal” hydrogen isotopes, providing a signature to compare across various stages of the planet’s development.

The ratio of deuterium to hydrogen varies across time because the lighter traditional hydrogen isotopes can escape into the upper atmosphere more easily than the deuterium. To get a clear picture of how Mar’s water changes over time, scientists need to observe the current ratio of isotopes and compare that to the ratios discovered in rocks throughout the planet’s development.

“It’s really interesting that our measurements from Curiosity of gases extracted from ancient rocks can tell us about loss of water from Mars,” remarked Paul Mahaffy, SAM’s principal investigator from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Curiosity drilled into a mudstone sample, known as Cumberland, and determined the deuterium to hydrogen ratio in that sample is one-half the ratio detected in water vapor currently in the Martian atmosphere. This tells us that Mars has lost a significant amount of water since the formation of the Cumberland rock. However, the Cumberland sample’s ratio is three time higher than the ratio in Mars’ original water supply, telling us that the majority of water loss occurred before the Cumberland rock was formed.

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NOW WHAT?

Curiosity’s science team is not sure when the next spike in methane will appear, but they will be monitoring the Martian surface closely in order to determine the source. Grotzinger announced that over the coming months we will see Curiosity drill more samples in an effort to try to identify the methane source trapped in the sediments.

The team hypothesizes that the methane may originate from organic compounds built up over time in the Martian sediment, possibly even from billions of years ago, early on in Mars’ history.

While the detection of organics is not the definitive proof of life we are searching for, it is the best evidence so far in favor of the possibility of life sometime in Martian history.

Grotzinger concluded the press conference by saying, “Curiosity is turning the corner from a Star Trek exploration mode — to boldy go where no one has gone before — to a more deductive exploration mode.”

Curiosity is one element of NASA’s ongoing Mars research and preparation for a human mission to Mars in the 2030s. Caltech manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and JPL manages Curiosity rover science investigations for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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Curiosity rover sniffs Martian methane

By Alexandra Witze

Background gas levels are low — but they spike periodically.

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has found a small amount of methane wafting over its landing spot in Gale Crater. The levels of the gas occasionally rise tenfold before dissipating again.

The discovery is a significant contribution to the long-running debate over how much of this important gas Mars has.

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'We have full confidence that there is methane in the atmosphere of Mars,' announced John Grotzinger of CalTech, a Curiosity project scientist, on December 16. 'Life is one of the few hypotheses for the formation of methane.'
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The Curiosity rover caught a whiff of methane on Mars

This is the strongest evidence yet of possible life in the planet’s ancient past

You need to change up your intellectual circle every so often to challenge your ideas and perceptions on many things. Much of my views and positions are the polar opposite of what they were several years ago, drastically changed simply by opening up to the perspectives of others. Monotony is not healthy, especially not for thoughts

Close-up view of the Curiosity’s drill in place on the Martian bedrock. Taken by Curiosity’s left MastCam on Sol 174 (2 Feb 2013).

Curiosity’s 2.1m (6.9ft) robotic arm has a cross-shaped turret holding five devices that can spin through a 350° turning range. makes use of three joints to extend it forward and to stow it again while driving. It has a mass of 30kg (66lb) and its diameter, including the tools mounted on it, is about 60cm (24in).

Two of the five devices are contact instruments known as the X-ray spectrometer (APXS), and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI camera). The remaining three are associated with sample acquisition and sample preparation functions: a percussion drill, a brush, and mechanisms for scooping, sieving and portioning samples of powdered rock and soil.

(NASA/JPL/The Meridian Journal)

Curiosity Detects Methane Spikes on Mars

Yesterday, NASA announced that its Mars Science Laboratory, aka Curiosity rover, has recorded a huge spike in methane, an organic compound, in Mars’ atmosphere, and in a powdered rock sample the rover drilled.

These findings were made with SAM, or the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM). Over a 20-month period, Curiosity used SAM to “sniff” the Martian atmosphere in search of methane and other organic compounds. With the help of SAM’s Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS), Curiosity was able to detect two significant spikes of methane, one in late 2013 and once in early 2014. During these periods, the level of methane spiked to seven parts per billion — that’s ten times the “normal” background level.

First, Curiosity drilled a sample of mudstone, dubbed “Cumberland”, and detected different organic chemicals in the powder. This was the first definitive proof of organics on the surface materials on Mars. What is unclear is the source of these organics.

Why Is This Important?

Well, organic molecules are molecules that contain hydrogen and carbon — the building blocks of life. It’s important to note that these molecules are not necessarily indicative of life, past or present, as they can exist where life does not. They do, however, tell us that Mars is chemically active and had conditions more favorable for life sometime in the past.

"We will keep working on the puzzles these findings present," said John Grotzinger, another project scientist from Cal-tech. "Can we learn more about the active chemistry causing such fluctuations in the amount of methane in the atmosphere? Can we choose rock targets where identifiable organics have been preserved?"

After discovering such a large spike in methane, scientists here on Earth worked tirelessly, over many months, to ensure that the organic compounds detected were, in fact, Martian in origin, and were not carried to Mars from Earth by SAM. After extensive testing, the analysis showed definitively that the compounds were indeed from Mars.

Naturally, Identifying organics on Mars is complicated. Martian rocks and soil samples often contain perchlorate, and when heated inside SAM, the perchlorate reacts with the organics, subsequently altering the structure of the compounds. This makes it near impossible to accurately determine which compound we have identified, and the distinction is key.

As Roger Summons, a team member from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), notes: “Organics are important because they can tell us about the chemical pathways by which they were formed and preserved. In turn, this is informative about Earth-Mars differences and whether or not particular environments represented by Gale Crater sedimentary rocks were more or less favorable for accumulation of organic materials. The challenge now is to find other rocks on Mount Sharp that might have different and more extensive inventories of organic compounds.”

Where Water Comes In:

There is water on Mars, but in the sense we find here on Earth. On Mars, the water, which seemingly formed about 3 billion years ago in Gale Crater, is bound into lakebed minerals, and after Curiosity drilled a sample of the Cumberland rock, it was able to “taste” the Martian water.

SAM was able to extract and analyze hydrogen isotopes from water molecules trapped inside rock samples. It then discovered that the ratio of a heavier hydrogen isotope (deuterium) to the most common isotope “gives us a signature for comparison across varying stages in a planet’s development.”

You might recognize the deuterium for its involvement in the Rosetta mission and comet 67P’s water. Deuterium to hydrogen ratios can tell us a lot about a body’s water, potentially even where it came from. The ratio of deuterium and hydrogen is known to change because the lighter (traditional) hydrogen molecules escape to the upper atmosphere more easily than their heavier deuterium counterpart. In order for scientists to see how the ratio in Mars’ water changes over time, they need to look at the ratio of isotopes in water molecules currently, and compare it to the ratios found in rocks representing different periods in the planet’s history.

"It’s really interesting that our measurements from Curiosity of gases extracted from ancient rocks can tell us about loss of water from Mars," remarked Paul Mahaffy, SAM’s principal investigator from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Even the Martian meteorites we have found here on Earth can help, but there are gaps in the history, as no known Martian meteorites are even remotely close in age to the rocks Curiosity has access to (our calculations suggest they formed about 3.9 billion to 4.6 billion years ago).

The deuterium to hydrogen ratio in the Cumberland sample is one-half the ratio in water vapor detected in the current atmosphere of Mars, meaning that Mars has lost a significant amount of water well before the Cumberland rock formed. However, the Cumberland ratio is three times higher than the ratio in Mars’ original water supply. (This is based on the assumption that that supply contained a ratio similar to that in the oceans here on Earth.)

While there is still no definitive proof that Mars once harbored life, we do know that the conditions were favorable for microbes. Further analysis is needed. Scientists are hoping to see another methane spike in the coming months, which might lead us to the source of the spikes. Presently, they believe the source is in the vicinity of Gale Crater.

Regardless, “This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya, a member of Curiosity’s science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”

Curiosity’s methane results are described in a paper published online this week in the journal ‘Science.’ A report on organics detection in the Cumberland rock is pending publication.

Sources & Other Resources: http://bit.ly/1wYIz6k

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Methane Is Found on Mars, Raising Hope of Life There Now - The New York Times

"Life on Mars? Today? The notion may not be so far-fetched after all.

A year after reporting that NASA’s Curiosity rover had found no evidence of methane gas on Mars, dashing the best hope that organisms might be living there now, scientists reversed themselves on Tuesday.

Curiosity has now recorded a burst of methane that lasted at least two months.

For now, scientists have just two possible explanations for the methane. One is that it is the waste product of certain living microbes.

“It is one of the few hypotheses that we can propose that we must consider as we go forward,” said John P. Grotzinger, the mission’s project scientist.

The scientists also reported that for the first time, they confirmed the presence of carbon-based organic molecules in a rock sample. The so-called organics are not direct signs of life, past or present, but they lend weight to the possibility that Mars had the ingredients required for life, and may even still have them.

“This is really a great moment for the mission,” Dr. Grotzinger told a news conference here at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union…”

!!!! Also, the Bowie song will now be in my head for the rest of the day.

arial86 asked:

Well, Dean himself has stated multiple times that "he doesn't swing that way". He's canonically straight, as Charlie is canonically a lesbian. I think that there is nothing wrong in changing the sexual orientation or even the gender of a fictional character. As long as you don't say that the original one is wrong or something like that, you're just writing a fic. You're just enjoying something in a total harmless way. Sorry for the private message, you can publish it, of course =)

  1. no.
  2. he’s not straight.
  3. no?????
  4. just no.
  5. erasing charlie’s sexuality is harmful. stop pretending it isn’t.

literally everything in the world is tailored to straight people, for straight people, by straight people. everyone is assumed straight until proven queer. and half the time queer characters are a joke or a prop or something and I just - charlie’s not a perfect character but she’s a pretty damn good one. she’s not there for dean or sam to drool over the idea of her with other girls. she’s a fully formed person outside of her sexuality; it doesn’t play an important part in her role on the show; she isn’t portrayed as a cliched stereotype. 

I cannot fathom why in the world you would take a canon queer character and make them straight. there have been like, what, four explicitly queer characters on supernatural?? the show has been on for ten years. it is a show about supernatural creatures and things that are only real on television and yet, somehow, there are no queer characters on the show.

so again, why would you want to make charlie straight and take away literally the one canonically queer character on the show???/ WHY????